Monday, 19 February 2018

Memory boxes – the Ystradgynlais story

In July 2016 I posted Memory boxes – connecting with the past – about a new initiative in Brecon run by the local museum. It is aimed at anyone working with, or caring for, older people living with dementia. Across the UK the approach is spreading as more communities decide to become dementia-friendly. A memory box scheme is a relatively easy and fun project to set up. And it is a very practical way to support people to reminisce about the past and thereby improve their wellbeing in the present. 

Sally Richards
Sally Richards, the PAVO Community Connector for Ystradgynlais and District, told me more about the Ystrad scheme. She also updated me about her work in the town, particularly in relation to supporting people living with dementia and those caring for them.

Dr Anja Pinhorn, a Consultant in Health Care of the Elderly at Powys Teaching Health Board, regularly works out of the Ystradgynlais Community Hospital. She initiated this memory box scheme working closely with a number of voluntary sector agencies in the town. Pulling in different groups has resulted in some truly unique memory boxes, with themes ranging from nature and wildlife, to sport and the Abercrave Rugby Football Club, the history of the local area, weddings, sewing, Christmas and cooking. 

Anja told us: "Staff at Ystradgynlais Hospital originally borrowed a couple of memory boxes from the Brecknock Museum Service and were impressed at how it opened up conversations on the ward. This led to the idea of developing our own conversation boxes. Staff have been overwhelmed by the response when we asked for help from diverse individuals and groups including Brecknock Wildlife Trust, the British Red Cross, a photographer based at Craig y Nos and the Ystradgynlais Volunteer Centre. Thank you all and keep the ideas for boxes flowing."

The boxes live on the 20 bedded Adelina Patti Ward at the hospital where they are used to stimulate conversation and memories about patients’ lives. These could include key events and anniversaries, holidays, interests and hobbies, working lives and everyday family activities. The boxes are crammed full of intriguing objects - everything from beer mats to confetti, knitted flowers to shoelaces! All to encourage an exploration not just with the eyes but also by touch, transporting people to their past lives. Sally explained that the benefits are obvious as the boxes can actually help stop people going into a low mood during a long stay in the hospital. Following their success on Adelina Patti Ward she is keen to spread the word and encourage their use in other sections of the hospital.

In her work as a Community Connector Sally regularly supports people living with dementia and those caring for them to make links with organisations that can help. Many practical issues will arise with a dementia diagnosis, including the need for more personal and medical care, and support with finances. However, “one of the hardest things for carers to deal with is losing the person that they fell in love with, or love, to the disease”.

Clients ask Sally about legal aspects relating to a dementia diagnosis such as Lasting Power of Attorney, or benefit payments like Attendance Allowance. However, sometimes what is of crucial importance to mental wellbeing is setting up links with local groups. If someone has had their driving licence revoked and feels their independence is being stifled, it is important to arrange transport so that they can continue to pursue their interests. In Ystradgynlais people are more likely to look south to Swansea, rather than north to Brecon and Llandrindod for activities, so Sally has to be expert in knowing about a wide-range of groups and services. 

A key challenge is trying to explain to people who live right on the Powys border with Neath Port Talbot why they have to access different statutory services from their neighbours.

Sally is based at the Ystradgynlais Community Hospital, where she sits in the Older Persons Integrated Team which is alongside a team of social workers and occupational therapists. “Being in the hospital is ideal as it means I can work in an efficient manner. If I receive a referral for someone who is due in day hospital on a Thursday I’ll nip and see them when they are in rather than make a separate appointment. And I can talk to the medical departments – get regular updates – and build good working relationships with colleagues in the hospital.”

She receives referrals from many of her statutory colleagues, including Community Psychiatric Nurse Assistants based at the community hospital. There is a daily half hour Integrated team meeting that she attends, where she and colleagues are joined by the Ward Sisters, Day Hospital Sisters, Physiotherapists, and District Nurses. Up for discussion - anyone over 65 with complex needs, with staff working together to provide the best care options possible for their patients and deciding who is best placed to provide it. Once Sally has picked up new referrals she works hard to match people up to relevant agencies, but sometimes it is challenging due to the pressures on overstretched voluntary sector services. “I can sometimes wait a long time to speak to someone in a busy charity, and last week at the end of one call instead of one referral I suddenly had four!”

Working closely with Theresa Huykman of Credu (formerly Powys Carers), Dementia Matters, the Alzheimer’s Society, and Christine Finch - the South Powys Dementia Support Worker, is clearly paying off. The partners have already identified gaps in services for carers of those living with dementia. As a result, they are launching a new dementia carers’ group (“a cuppa and a chat”) this Wed 21 February. Future get-togethers will take place monthly on the 3rd Wednesday, 10.30am – 12.30pm, at The Welfare, Ystradgynlais. If you’d like to know more about the group contact Theresa on 0777 334 2128.

If you’re based in the Ystradgynlais area and would like to find out more about helping make the community dementia friendly, check out the Dementia Matters in Powys website for the latest updates and information.

For general enquiries about dementia a good option is the Wales Dementia Helpline, 0808 808 2235 or the Alzheimer’s Society Helpline, 0300 222 1122.

Here in the PAVO mental health team we are loving these Ystradgynlais memory boxes. What theme would you pick if you were making a memory box for family and friends in your local community? Feel free to let us know in the comments section below.

And you can find out how to build a memory box with these easy-to-follow instructions from the Alzheimer’s Society.

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